Issue: Spring 2014
Frequency: Quarterly
Launched: 2002
Circ: 200,000
Editor: Betsy Freese
Creative Director: Matt Strelecki
Publishing Company: Meredith Agrimedia

 Time is not a luxury cover designers typically have–especially if you’re a team of one. For Matt Strelecki, creative director of Meredith Agrimedia, that is certainly the case. Strelecki spearheads all the design efforts on Living the Country Life and Successful Farming, which he admits gives him very little time to conceptualize, plan and produce covers.

Despite Strelecki’s limited time resource, he says he has figured out a way create captivating covers efficiently.

"Normally the cover is designed quickly," he says. We never look for a specific photo; instead we glean from what we have for the magazine. Usually the discussion and turnaround time is in the 4- to 8-hour range."

Obviously, a turnaround like that is extremely quick, and one that might cause severe anxiety for some designers. But Strelecki says the editorial team is laser focused on what they want, which makes things easier. And for the spring issue, he and editor Betsy Freese knew that David Ekstrom’s chicken photograph made for an ideal cover.

"This picture was just it," he says. "It’s a great image. It’s a great-looking chicken. And it just grabs you and speaks directly to our readers." (An audience he describes as "the least ironic hipsters ever.")

Still, he says the photograph did offer a unique challenge.

"It was one of the more difficult photos to make work," he says. "The difficultly all along was getting the type to read. There really was no place to hold all of the cover lines over an all light or all dark area. It took sever- al attempts and I tried a lot of things. Ultimately, this had the greatest impact and was legible."

Designer’s Comments

My first impression is that this is a successful cover that screams Living the Country Life. The type treatment of the cover line is well executed, eye-catching and integrates perfectly with the photo, which is simple and vibrant.

The logo cuts through the foreground and background, creating a fantastic three-dimensional effect. However, the black logo flattens this out and I would like to see it softer by pulling color from the chicken, enhancing the effect.

I believe the message of the cover is not entirely clear due to the deck lines, which are the only true weakness on this successful cover. These lines are clunky and hard to read due to the right alignment and the awkward stacking of words. I would like to see the words brought down to two or three lines and loosened up with proper leading and kerning. Additionally, the second deck should have a different treatment than the first, starting with enlarging the word "Plus:" to emphasize the separation from the cover story. I would also like to avoid crossing three thresholds with these lines by shifting the artwork a little to the left.

I wonder if the cover could have gone without the secondary deck, allowing the cover line to drop down and have a focus on the photo, which is perfect for this cover.
Kevin Paccione/Design Director/Pet Age

Everything about this magazine cover reads "Chicken." I like the subject, and this is what I’d consider to be a very iconic-looking chicken. My kudos goes to the chicken handler for getting her to stand on the perch.

My colleague reminded me of Modern Farmer‘s spring 2013 cover. They used a profile photo of a rooster on a solid black background. That left them a lot of room for type, and type colors. I like that Living the Country Life challenged themselves with an environmental shot–the chicken’s man-made home, the coop–instead of shooting it in a studio. However, it’s a busy cover.

My eye immediately goes to the distracting yellow frame of the coop’s window, and the yellow step, instead of the chicken. Covering the yellow border with text didn’t help. It just makes the lines more difficult to read. I really like the treatment of the "Chickens!" headline. It’s fun, and readable over the chicken’s feathers and other background textures.

If they were to do it over, they could try shooting the chicken straight on, using the existing yellow frame to their favor, instead of trying to cover it up with a lot of cover lines on the right side.
Amy Wolff/Photo Editor/Photo District News